Privacy watchdogs in Britain and Australia have opened a joint investigation into facial recognition company Clearview AI about its use of personal data “scraped” off social media platforms and other websites.
Thursday’s announcement by Britain’s Information Commissioner’s Office and the Office of the Australian Information Commissioner adds to the global regulatory scrutiny the US start-up is facing.
“The investigation highlights the importance of enforcement cooperation in protecting the personal information of Australian and UK citizens in a globalised data environment,” the regulators said.
Clearview AI Inc came to attention after investigative reports detailed its practice of harvesting billions of photos from social media and other services to identify people.
Clearview AI has previously sold data to Queensland, NSW, Victorian and federal police.
In a statement to technology blog network Engadget, Clearview AI chief executive Hoan Ton-That said:
“It searches publicly available photos from the internet in accordance with applicable laws. It is used to help identify criminal suspects.
“Its powerful technology is currently unavailable in UK and Australia. Individuals in these countries can opt-out. We will continue to cooperate with UK’s ICO and Australia’s OAIC.”
Mr Ton-That said the technology was still unavailable in Britain and Australia and the company would co-operate with regulators.
Canada’s federal privacy commissioner said this week a joint investigation of Clearview with provincial authorities remained open, even after the company said it would stop offering its facial recognition services in Canada.
It also intends to complete its own investigation of the Royal Canadian Mounted Police’s use of Clearview.
US senators questioned the company this year amid privacy concerns and the possible sale of its services to authoritarian regimes. Facebook, YouTube and Twitter have demanded it stop collecting their users’ images.